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Issue No.02 - April-June (2013 vol.35)
pp: 88
Stephanie Dick , Harvard University
In 1936, Alan Turing remarked that "computing is normally done by writing certain symbols on paper." Although computing was then the prerogative of human computers, Turing imagined that machines might calculate by writing as well. Turing intended for this notional machine to be analogous to human computers who calculated by writing and manipulating symbols, relying on paper to augment their memories. But to what extent is Turing's machine actually writing and reading like a human computer? Recent scholarship in the history of mathematics has argued that mathematical thinking and practice are inextricably entwined with the historical development of different cultures and systems of writing. Looking at computer writing as writing directs historical attention away from abstract formal representations of hardware and software and toward the materiality of data--how it is inscribed and configured within specific digital media.
Mathematics, Computers, Writing, Programming, Turing machines, book history, history of computing, Alan Turing, Logic Theory Machine, Allen Newell, Herbert Simon, John Clifford Shaw, RAND Johnniac, Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, Principia Mathematica, automated theorem proving, history of mathematics, media history
Stephanie Dick, "Machines Who Write [Think Piece]", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.35, no. 2, pp. 88, April-June 2013, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2013.21
1. A. Turing, "On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entsheidungsproblem." Proc. London Soc. Mathematics, vol. 42, 1936, p. 249.
2. Turing, "On Computable Numbers" p. 230.
3. Turing, "On Computable Numbers," p. 232.
4. Examples of this work include R. Netz, The Shaping of Deduction in Greek Mathematics; A Study in Cognitive History, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003; Netz, "Linguistic Formulae as Cognitive Tools," Pragmatics and Cognition, vol. 7, no. 1, 1999, pp. 147–176; B. Rotman, Mathematics as Sign; Writing, Imagining, Counting, Stanford Univ. Press, 2000; P. Damerow, Abstraction and Representation; Essays on the Cultural Evolution of Thinking, W. Edelstein, and W. Lefèvre trans. eds., Kluwer, 1996. I borrow the phrase "epistemic positivity" from Hans Jö, rg Rheinberger, who discusses the role of note-taking in experiment and laboratory practices in "Scrips and Scribbles," Modern Language Notes, vol. 118, no. 3 2003, pp. 622–636.
5. M. Mahoney, "What Makes the History of Software Hard," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 30, no. 2, 2008, p. 8.
6. An alternative to "machines who think." See P. McCorduck, Machines Who Think: A Personal Inquiry into the History and Prospects of Artificial Intelligence, 2nd ed., AK Peters, 2004.
7. For example, see M. Kirschenbaum Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, MIT Press, 2008.
8. S. Newell, "Programming the Logic Theory Machine," RAND document P-954, 29 Feb. 1957.
9. These information structures are now called "linked list" data structures.
10. L. Gitelman, Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era, Stanford Univ. Press, 2000, p. 6.
11. D. Knuth, "Literate Programming," The Computer Journal, vol. 27, no. 2, 1984, pp. 97–111.
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